As a celebration of women in music, National Album Day this weekend [October 16] is honouring Shirley Manson with a special vinyl edition of Garbages debut album. The record is now widely regarded as one of the most significant albums of the last 30 years with definitive tracks such as Stupid Girl and Only Happy When It Rains. It has also found a new generation of fans.
However, the Edinburgh-born singer admits she had serious reservations about the band after joining them to cut the eponymous debut. It was 1994 in the middle of a bleak mid-western winter and while recording the album Manson entered a black mood wondering why she had even bothered to try out for a band who just didnt cut the mustard.
Twenty-seven years on and 17 million worldwide album sales later, she admits she thinks differently now. It was my own immaturity, she says. I was looking at it from a superficial standpoint. I felt we werent going to make a record good enough to transcend how we all looked.
I had grown up in a band (Goodbye Mr Mackenzie) where we were looking at the coolest rock stars like David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Nick Cave thinking there is no way we can compete with that legacy.
It didnt help that Manson was left to her own devices in a lonely Midwestern hotel unable to drive or go anywhere while the band went home to their families. It was a kind of lockdown and when she experienced something similar many years later, because of the pandemic, she found being stuck indoors had its advantages.
I fell in love with the San Antonio Spurs and learned a lot about how they handled themselves in triumph and defeat, she says. I love basketball and baseball and it got me through. The Spurs coach, Gregg Popovich is arguably the greatest coach in sports history.
Manson describes last years lockdown at her home in LA as a ghastly experience though before adding: Im married to an incredible husband (record producer Billy Bush) who brought good cheer and made incredible cocktails every day. We would sit and listen to a piece of vinyl and study it; that has kept me alive.
Her seventh album with Garbage, No Gods No Masters, released earlier this year, features a photograph taken by Manson in an Edinburgh necropolis. I happened to be in the Dean Cemetery and these two sister angels appeared out of nowhere, I was like thats it. I sent the picture to our graphic artist and he used one of the iconic angels.
While the re-release of Garbages first album arrives in pink, the colour of No Gods No Masters became an unlikely source of rage. I fought with the record company who didnt want the vinyl to be neon green. I wondered why they had such a bee in their bonnet until I found out green is the most expensive, at which point I said to my manager; this is a hill I will f****** die on. She said, dont worry; well get you the green.
The daughter of a theologian, Manson grew up in a Church of Scotland family and was taught at Sunday school by her father. Since her early teens, she has distanced herself from organised religion but suggests people have pointed out one of the apparent themes of the new record.
God is all over this record, she says. It never occurred to me before for some inexplicable reason. I dont know why other than Im middle-aged, Im questioning everyone, Im challenging everything and I guess Im frustrated at how organised religion is shoring up this patriarchal system that isnt benefiting anyone apart from old white men.
The albums opening cut The Men Who Rule The World is an arresting listen, and lyrically her target is firmly fixed: The men who rule the world/Have made a f****** mess/The history of power/The worship of success. Manson describes it as a futurist modern retelling of Noahs ark where she is Noah on George Clinton's Mothership. I come down to save everything beautiful, divine and worth saving while leaving everything thats wretched, cruel and violent behind. The band just really killed it and met the energy of the song; all of us were laughing what a weird song.
I suggest the tracks jagged and funky riffs recall Bowies Fame as well as a hint of his maligned 90s output. Were such big fans, his name thrills any time we can get close to that genius, she says. He was treated abysmally (during the 90s). Then when he died, they were started playing Bowie on the radio. What a joke. How about playing him while he was alive?
Manson knows herself how strange fame can be. She struggled when the band quickly hit a zeitgeist moment around the globe. She soon became an alternative pin-up and cover girl not long after the band released their 1995 debut, which was followed by Version 2.0 three years later. Both albums went on to shift four million copies apiece but fame proved to be a strange and demanding mistress.
We found ourselves in some ludicrous situations, she says. I think one that strikes me and that also highlights the ludicrousness of the industry was Bob Dylan. Can I underline that Bob Dylan, was going on before Garbage! It was on a festival stage, also Patti Smith and Nick Cave. We were mortified that these three amazing icons of song-writing and artistry were going on before a relatively new band.
How come festival organisers and so on are not noticing how disrespectful and outrageous that is? At what point as a culture are we going to value things of depth and importance. Why are we valuing money and ten-a-penny artists that will be never remembered? Some of these artists are struggling to get on the page; thats a joke!
With sexual misconduct allegations in the music industry among prominent figures such as the Garbage singers namesake Marilyn Manson, who she recorded a duet with in 2005, a number of artists are now being dropped as part of the Metoo movement. How does she feel about the recent shift?
I dont know one single artist that is without sin, says Manson of musicians being cancelled. Theres no one without failings as human beings. For us to expect perfection from artists in particular but humans in general is naive and sort of unrealistic. If a human being makes a beautiful or essential piece art that brings you joy, that art exists whether the person behind it is flawed or not and if we were to cancel anyone who has ever done anything wrong we would end up with s**** music, movies and s**** everything; it would be the blandest world you could imagine. You could cancel the great David Bowie if you care to for numerous things or Iggy Pop the list is endless and they are all capable of great mistakes as are we all.
Another of Mansons great heroes is Sean Connery who died last year. Manson was born in the same city as the first Bond and he was a significant inspiration when she was growing up in the 1970s.
I was very moved by Sean Connerys death, she says. He represents a lot of beautiful things for me. I wrote about it on my Instagram page at the time of his death. He was the representation of dreams for a lot of Scottish people; we didnt have anyone at that level or in Hollywood and there was Sean in this incredible iconic role representing Scotland on the world stage. Wed never seen anything like that before.
With Garbage, Manson was also the third Scottish female after Lulu and Sheena Easton to sing a Bond theme recording The World Is Not Enough for the nineteenth 007 film in 1999. It makes sense to me that Scottish singers would be well represented in the litany of Bond themes because of course Ian Fleming, the writer was a Scotsman (by descent), she says.
Theres an inherent understanding culturally of what that franchise is trying to do and does, so to get invited to be part of the longest and most important film franchise in the history of cinema was spectacular, Im very, very proud of that and its a glorious part of our history.
Garbage is out now on special edition pink vinyl as part of National Album Day to mark the contribution of women in the music industry
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